How can Latina mothers overcome health factors that put their babies at risk? – San Gabriel Valley Tribune

Even before she got pregnant, 34-year-old Irene Vargas of Compton faced some serious health issues.

“I was pre-diabetic, I wasn’t ovulating and one of my tubes was clogged,” she said.

Fertility drugs helped put a baby on the way. Then Vargas, who was overweight, developed gestational diabetes. That increased her risk of high blood pressure and possible complications for the baby.

Vargas and her husband rejoiced when she gave birth to a healthy girl in September.

But her story is a cautionary tale for hundreds of thousands of potential mothers among Latinas in Southern California. Rampant diabetes and high blood pressure are putting many births at risk, and birth defects are also a concern.

It is well known that black infants in California are dying at far higher rates than infants of any other race. In 2015, there were 9.3 deaths among every 1,000 black babies born in California, compared to 4.5 deaths among every 1,000 Latino babies.

But that comparison masks the much larger impact that Latinos have on the health system.

According to March of Dimes 2013-2015 birth data, Latino births in Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties outnumbered black births by more than seven to one, about the same as the statewide ratio. Latino infant deaths in the region in 2016 outnumbered black infant deaths 514 to 177, a ratio of almost 3 to 1. More than half of the 223,000 births in the region in 2016 were to Latinas.

Dr. Diana E. Ramos, co-chair of the March of Dimes Health Equity Workgroup and professor of obstetrics and gynecology at USC, traces many of the birth problems faced by Latinas to obesity.

“Being overweight or obese not only increases your risk for complications during pregnancy, but makes it more difficult to become pregnant in the first place because ovulation is not happening,” Ramos said.

Diabetes is connected to poor diet, and that, in turn, is often a reflection of economic circumstances.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, about 30 percent of Latino families with children under 18 were headed by a single woman, and mother-only households have higher poverty rates even if the mom works full-time. In 2014, nearly 20 percent of mother-only Latino families in which the mother worked full-time were living in poverty.

Latinas also have a higher incidence than women in other racial/ethnic populations of delivering babies with neural tube defects, Ramos said. Although it’s unknown why the disparity exists, one reason may be that Latina women are not getting enough folic acid.

“Folic acid helps decrease neural tube defects such as spina bifida,” Ramos said. “Taking it is so important that bread and pasta are fortified with folic acid and just recently the March of Dimes was instrumental in helping fortify corn masa because they knew Latinos are not necessarily eating bread, but guess what they are eating? Tortillas.”

Many Southern California Latina mothers are also stressed by unstable housing, poor transportation and limited English fluency. Added to this is the ever-present fear by some mothers that they, their partner or a close family member could be deported.

Vargas is one example. She lives in a small one-bedroom apartment with her daughter and husband, where she frequently hears gunshots and doesn’t feel safe going on walks. Her husband often works 14-hour shifts for minimum wage at a restaurant.

“He works so much and spends so little time with us,” Vargas said, adding that they are still living paycheck to paycheck. “We are struggling a lot right now.”

Vargas receives food assistance and finds it hard to put healthy food on the table.

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